DANIEL GREENFIELD: THE UNITED STATES OF GUILT
There was once an America that built its shining cities on a hill in the name of virtue. That nation has been replaced by another nation that builds housing projects in the name of guilt. We used to elect the best men for the job, or at least we believed we did. Now we hold elections of guilt, deciding which oppressed minority has been most shamefully overlooked, before casting our vote for a more diverse and equitable society.
Our American exceptionalism now is a small thing that takes place in the shadow of guilt. It is rarely mentioned now without implicit rebuttals of that guilt. Its advocates are forever laboring to get out from under the burden of slavery, segregation and a thousand other hissing sibilant S’s that have been used to mark us as an eternally unworthy nation.
Guilt is the shadow side of virtue. A politician who speaks about the virtues of a nation panders to his audience, and leads them with a golden halter rope to follow his policies. If he says that America is a great nation because it is a nation of immigrants, or a diverse nation or a nation where men can marry each other– his audience will internalize that lesson and repeat it back. If a foreigner accuses his country of being a bad place, he will reply that this accusation is false because it is actually a great nation where diverse gay immigrants can marry each other.
People are susceptible to building identities out of the compliments that they are given. Tell a man that he is a generous host and he is more likely to invite you, or someone else, over for dinner. That is how philanthropists are made, with dinners, awards and other social rewards for giving money. That is also how philanthropic nations are made. Americans keep giving money to the world and expect that one day an international rubber chicken dinner of some sort will be held in our honor.
Virtue imposes no obligation, except that of living up to that virtue. Guilt, however, imposes the endless obligation of escaping the burden of guilt. As politicians spoke less of virtue and more of guilt, America changed from a nation of shining cities to a nation of slaveowners forever striving to recapture its virtue in the face of the numberless crimes of its past.
The United States of Guilt is no longer benevolent for benevolence’s sake. It is benevolent because it has something to prove. When it voted for the historical moment of Barack Hussein Obama, it was trying to escape another history. It was creating new history in order to leave the old history behind.
Did America owe a debt of any sort to the bastard son of a Kenyan diplomat who had as much to do with 19th Century slavery or even 20th Century segregation as he did with the Napoleonic wars? No it didn’t. Guilt, however, isn’t rational, it’s neurotic. It is a coat of fear that someone else puts on you and that you will do anything to take off. It’s a voice in your head that says you are a bad person and, even when you don’t fully believe that voice, you know that other people do, and you want it to go away.
Above all else, guilt is power. It is a debt that, once accepted from outside, has no natural end. It is a bridle, a bit and finally a cage. It makes slavery so much easier by eliminating resistance from those who no longer believe that they have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. There is no room for these things, especially happiness, while wearing the hairshirt of a thousand historic crimes.
Exploiting guilt is much more effective than exploiting virtue. Participating in your own virtue is optional; participating in your own guilt isn’t. To be guilty is to be automatically complicit in crimes that have been assigned to your name. It is the essence of being considered “Part of the problem” rather than “Part of the solution.” The only hope of redemption lies in bending your back to the whip of the solution or wielding the whip against those who are still reluctant about becoming part of the solution.
Laws can only make you do so many things. Even the busiest police states have only so many men in black suits that fit badly around their shoulder holsters and sunglasses that don’t reflect the sun, only so many informers and so many operators to listen to wiretaps. The best stooges and informers are the ones that men and women plant in their own heads to threaten, intimidate and spy on their own actions, to censor their own words and thoughts, and to drive them to do what they do not wish to do.
The house of guilt is built on taboos. Acts and thoughts which should automatically inspire guilt. If they do not inspire guilt in you, then they will inspire guilt in your neighbors, and, if your neighbors catch you not feeling properly guilty about something in the way that they do, they will deem you a bad person. And that will make them feel virtuous.
The dirty little secret of guilt is that it brings forth such feelings of virtue. Liberals need racism, not only because it is another crisis that vests them with the right to rule as protectors of the oppressed, but also because it reaffirms their virtue.
They need racists the way that they need people who don’t recycle, who don’t agonize over America’s foreign policy, who unironically wear American flags on their t-shirts, who think that violence solves things, who believe that taxes should be lower, who are so privileged that they aren’t aware of their privilege, who don’t care about the planet or about any of the other things that they we have all been duly designated to care about this decade. It makes them feel good about their own virtues.
The manipulators of guilt strive to create a United States of Guilt, a permanent state of guilt run for their own benefit that works by imposing so much guilt that the guilt-ridden population never notices how their guilt is being spun into gold. Their goal is not to assuage the conditions that bring guilt forth, but to exacerbate them. The worse the conditions become, the greater their power grows. As with all sociopaths, those who exploit guilt for a living are the guiltiest and yet feel the least guilt.
In the United States of Guilt, the social crisis has replaced the Constitution and legislatures, courts and executives casually rewrite that old yellowed document for the sake of the social crisis. The crisis, whether it is the heat death of the planet, racism, obesity or health care must be perpetuated endlessly because it has become the source of political legitimacy and national illegitimacy.
The political legitimacy of the presidents of guilt derives from that national illegitimacy, the heaps of books, articles, documentaries, wall graffiti, pamphlets, sociological texts, scatological poems, speeches and cave paintings that thoroughly and completely prove the past and present day criminality of the nation and the complicity of its people in that criminality.
This Constitution of Guilt, with its hundreds of thousands of pages, its multimedia apparatus and its glorious flag of guilt waving bleakly everywhere, is the true source of political legitimacy for the elite. It has displaced democracy and law with social crisis after social crisis whose very existence shames us all and makes all other forms of government, other than the emergency response to the crisis, irrelevant.
To protest anything that the crisis managers of the United States of Guilt do is to display racism, criminal selfishness, disdain for the planet, a lack of concern for the future heart problems of six year olds drinking soda; along with a legion of other crimes, all of which add up to being a bad member of society. A guiltless sociopath.
The social consensus determines who is and isn’t a good person. It says that good people feel a sense of responsibility toward others. Guilt is the emotion of failing to live up to those expectations and responsibilities. When it is universally cultivated, then everyone feels guilty for not living up to their social duties and guilt for not feeling more guilty about it; except those high-achievers totting back organic fair trade groceries in reusable Amnesty International bags on the way to prepare lunches for homeless gay illegal aliens while wearing buttons condemning the occupation of Afghanistan and Gaza, nuclear power, West Virginia, hunting wolves, drilling for oil, driving cars and not being more engaged with the problems of the world.
People will only do so much in the name of virtue, but they will do far more if they are hag-ridden in the name of guilt. People tire of being virtuous, but they are never allowed to tire of being guilty.
They will allow their own freedoms to be stripped away from them if they can be convinced that they do not deserve those freedoms because they have taken them from others. They will allow their money to be taken from them, if they are convinced that their hard-earned money is actually ill-gotten loot. Most of all, they will allow their happiness to be taken from them if they are convinced that their happiness indicts them for not caring enough about all the misery that they have caused.
And yet virtue is the gateway to guilt. If you allow politicians to spend enough time singing your praises, eventually they will force you to live up to them. If they praise America as a generous nation, that means they expect to take your money. If they praise it as a tolerant nation, that means it is expected not to put up a fight against any imposition. If it is praised as being willing to meet all challenges, that is a blank check. If it is praised for its willingness to come to terms with the past, that means the guilt is about to be piled on with a wheelbarrow.
Be wary of praise, for it often implies obligation. The easiest way to trap a population in guilt is to praise them to the skies, swell their heads with their own greatness, and then pull out the rug from under them by blasting them for their shortcomings. Make a people think that they are possessed of extraordinary virtues, and it is a matter of child’s play to entrap them by showing them that it is not so. As virtue easily becomes guilt, so the dictatorship of virtue becomes a United States of Guilt.
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